New competition model
Viewpoint: What do the EPSO selection tests tell us about the nature of the European civil service? Let’s debate them.
Since 2019, EPSO has been working on overhauling the European civil service entrance ‘competitions’. The new model resulting from these discussions has already been the subject of a number of debates within the institutions, notably during the AST/154/22 competition, which was cancelled by the EPSO board. The competition was disrupted by technical problems, but was also widely criticised for the way it was run. The reform is not just about human resources. Since it affects competitions, it also influences the position of civil servants in the field of European policies, insofar as selection methods tell us about the institution’s expectations and perception of them.
Indeed, the competition proves that Euro-civil servants have “cultural and informational capital”, expertise from which they can then draw part of their legitimacy. However, in the early 2000s, the Kinnock reform drastically changed the competition model by introducing psychometric tests and management skills, while doing away with EU knowledge tests. It was inspired by private sector selection methods. This reduced the importance of expertise and brought European civil servants closer to other international civil servants.
The new model proposed by EPSO reverses this change somewhat. It reintroduces a multiple-choice knowledge test and does away with the oral tests at the test centre. Another major change is that the tests will take place entirely online. To organise the technical side of the test, EPSO has turned to an American company called Prometrics, which specialises in this field. This company has a subsidiary in Ireland, and is therefore subject to European regulations on personal data, enabling it to contract with European clients. However, the organisation and supervision of the tests has been the focus of virtually all the criticism levelled at the new model, particularly in the AST/154/22 competition mentioned earlier. Some people felt that the examiner’s inspection of the environment using the candidate’s webcam (the candidate must show the room in which he is taking the test, prove that he is indeed alone and that he has no means of cheating) was too intrusive. Others were reportedly ejected from their test session because a member of their family or a pet had entered the room. While the number of negative testimonials undoubtedly attests to the real abuses that took place during this competition, it was also one of the first trials of this new model, so malfunctions were to be expected.
It would therefore seem that the technical aspect and the delegation of supervision to Prometrics are the main causes of the problems encountered by the candidates, insofar as the Commission has abandoned all pretence of organising its own recruitment competitions. It is highly likely that these problems will be eliminated in future competitions and that EPSO will tighten its demands on Prometrics and their supervisors.
Other criticisms relate to the fact that competitors must have a personal computer, a relatively powerful and stable internet connection and a controlled test environment where they can isolate themselves. It is true that people from modest or disadvantaged social backgrounds may find it difficult to meet these conditions.
However, the previous model where tests were held in test centres could also generate costs for candidates, particularly in terms of travelling to the nearest centre, since the Commission was no longer involved in funding such expenses. What’s more, the “test centre” part was by far the most expensive for the majority of competitions, according to estimates made by the European Court of Auditors. There are many ways in which this model could be improved, and we are currently looking into this, which will be published in the next issue of GRASPE.
It is clear that the nature of the competitive examination and its tests are part of a series of political battles to define the function of the European civil service, the role that the institutions should play and therefore the dynamics of European integration. At the same time, the Parliament and the Council are becoming more powerful in the decision-making process, to the detriment of the Commission, which is seeing its staff numbers and budget reduced. After the pandemic, which turned countries in on themselves, the war in Ukraine put the Member States and their representatives centre stage. All these factors are undoubtedly indicative of a return to national logic and a weakening of the Community level. Guaranteeing the skills, effectiveness and expertise of Euro-officials is therefore crucial to preserving the political legitimacy of the European institutions.
 Georgakakis, Didier. « Au service de l’Europe. Crises et transformations sociopolitiques de la fonction publique européenne », Paris : Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2019, p.50.
 Cour des comptes européenne, Rapport spécial n° 23, « Office européen de sélection du personnel : le moment est venu d’adapter le processus de sélection à des besoins de recrutement en pleine évolution », 2020, p.40.
Promotion exercise: proposals from DGs are public
The Commission DGs have just decided on those staff to be promoted following meetings between staff representatives and Directorate Generals. The outcome of these meetings was generally positive, as staff representatives were able to make their voices heard and even make corrections to the proposed promotions made by the DGs. U4U was present among the staff representatives in 23 Directorates-General.
U4U members who wish to appeal, should contact us via our email address: rep-pers-osp-U4U@ec.europa.eu
In order to help you, we will need you to send us in good time your appeal draft as well as your appraisal documents. Please indicate clearly in your email your grade and seniority and make sure to respect the appeal deadlines.
In addition, we will be present in the working groups that study appeals. If you have already lodged an appeal, please send it to us.
Finally, an evaluation procedure has been started by DG HR in order to gather data on the implementation of the Commission’s decision on working time and hybrid work and, if necessary, propose recommendations by September 2023 with a view to a possible revision of the decision.
Essentially, groups are being asked to assess (1) whether implementation has worked well; (2) whether improvements are needed; (3) and what the possible scenarios are for the future.
The results of the survey, together with available data on office attendance and the use of the ten days of teleworking away from home, will be incorporated into the evaluation report.
U4U will be organising a brainstorming session on these three questions in the near future with its representatives from the various services and DGs to participate more effectively in the DG HR evaluation procedure.
Strengthening gender equality: COM Decision of 30 September 2020
On 30 September 2020, the College of Commissioners adopted conclusions aimed at strengthening gender equality within the institution. These measures will have an impact on the administrative organisation of the institution. If the objective is commendable, questions arise as to how they are to be implemented. Finally, achieving equality between men and women cannot be achieved solely in terms of access to positions of responsibility, but also by reference to precariousness or even the occupation of posts at the bottom of the pay scale.
Creation of a post “Deputy Director”
It is proposed to designate a Head of Unit as “Deputy Director” in each DG.
The College asked Directors-General to draw up by 31 October 2020, in agreement with their portfolio Commissioner, a list designating a Head of Unit who would deputise for each post of Director. This list should, in principle, include at least 55 % of women.
The designated Heads of Unit will appear in the organisation chart of the Directorate-General under the heading “Deputy Director”.
First of all, it should be noted that this new post is not included in Annex IA to the Staff Regulations, which establishes equivalence between grades and duties, nor in the Decision of the European Commission on types of post and post titles of 16 December 2013. It is true that this function exists in other EU bodies such as the Committee of the Regions.
Moreover, the appointment to this post is not based on the procedure laid down in the Middle Management Decision (European Commission Decision of 15 June 2016 on middle management. See Article 8 thereof). It derogates from the appointment procedure for senior management posts as defined by the Commission.
The Commission considers that these are not senior management posts but middle management posts and therefore the persons chosen by the Directors-General have already passed through the procedure laid down by the Commission. Thus, it is not necessary to go through a formal appointment procedure.
In this case, it could be questioned whether it would be useful for this approach, unless it would like to give a better picture of gender balance to the Commission, unless such appointments predate and prepare for future appointments to senior management. The disadvantage of this decision is to create a new hierarchical layer, which is difficult to place in the organisation of the institution. How can a deputy to the Director be located in relation to a Head of Department in OIB or DGT or by reporting to a Head of Division?
The creation of a Deputy Head of Unit function in each Commission unit
The Commission has also decided to create a function of Deputy Head of Unit within each unit. Directors-General will have to ensure that these positions are carried out in a gender-balanced manner by the end of 2022. On this point, it may also be noted that the function of Deputy Head of Unit is not included in Annex IA to the Staff Regulations or in the decision on types of post.
Unlike assistants to Directors, the post of Deputy Head of Unit does not constitute a middle management function within the meaning of the Staff Regulations (Article 44 (2) of the Staff Regulations) and the Commission Decision on the application of Articles 44 (2) and 45 of the Staff Regulations and Article 7 (4) of Annex XIII to the Staff Regulations. It does not have the effect of giving those concerned an additional step to compensate for the management costs of a team. Therefore, appointment to such posts is not covered by the Middle Management Decision.
It remains to be seen how Directors-General will proceed with the appointment of such posts, which do not entail any particular financial advantage. It would also be good practice for the Commission to adopt a harmonised approach to the selection of colleagues who will have to perform these duties. There is currently no harmonised approach.
In addition, it is questionable how these functions are articulated and prioritised with those of head of sector or team leader. For U4U, the multiplication of hierarchical levels hinders staff taking responsibility and developing creativity.
Centralisation of appointment procedures for senior management posts
The College’s conclusion also provides for the strengthening of the appointment procedures for management posts.
It is decided that four of the permanent members of the Consultative Committee on Appointments (CCA) [The Secretary-General, the Director-General of DG HR, the Head of the President’s Cabinet and the Head of Cabinet of the Commissioner responsible for Human Resources] will give opinions on any requests for publication of senior management posts and on the appropriateness of conducting CCA interviews and with which candidates, either in the context of a meeting organised at least once a month or by written procedure. Furthermore, the pre-selection phase of candidates remains subject to review until the opinion of that body is delivered.
This decision can be seen as a desire to centralise the appointment procedures to the political posts of the Commission.
Again, U4U is concerned about the multiplication of hierarchical levels within the institution, which risks creating a bureaucratic process and limiting staff’s creativity and responsibility.
It should also be noted that this new approach could contradict the Commission’s desire to create effective structures and promote a collaborative and flexible organisation, as proposed in the New HR Strategy (point 8).
Finally, it would have been desirable for a social dialogue based on comprehensive information in these areas to be organised. It is not too late to organise a working and information meeting on this subject.
The Commission’s 2020 promotion exercise has been launched
As every year, U4U will actively participate in this exercise of “meetings with the DGs – Promotion” and as usual, we have made a call for interest to our members. We have proposed 20 colleagues to the Central Staff Committee (CCP) which coordinates this work in the interest of the staff of all Commission sites. This step follows the adoption of the evaluation reports by the hierarchy after the dialogues that took place on this subject. Subsequently, the Directors-General draw up their proposals for promotion, which are discussed before publication with staff representatives.
As a result of the current crisis, we have obtained only 20 places out of the 40 proposed because the CCP preferred to give priority to colleagues with previous experience. We regret that this work cannot be shared more with volunteer colleagues who can be trained at a distance without too much difficulty. Indeed, this work not only provides an overview of the promotion system, its rules and methods for comparing merits, but also of the jobs in the DGs, thematic files and human resources management.
We recall that this work is necessary for the good management of the promotion exercise because it allows us to give an opinion on the proposals of the DGs while checking the good treatment of colleagues’ files, according to the current rules. We are listening to the needs of the DGs (especially the smaller DGs) and try to reduce any possible inconsistencies between the evaluations and the proposals of the services.
Finally, let us remind all our colleagues that these “meetings with DGs” are only one step in the promotion evaluation process in the current system and that we also work in the appeals committees and the promotion committee. But we will come back to this later and of course at the appropriate time. Please do not hesitate to contact our team if you have any further questions.